By Revival Ojedapo
He ruled the nation from 1993 to 1998, a period of time that is remembered by many as the worst since Nigeria gained her independence in 1960. But, is Abacha’s rule all evil? Or are there positives to be taken from the way he handled the reins of power?
After coercing Ernest Shonekan to resign, Abacha took over, and wasted no time to issue a decree that would confer upon him absolute power. He’s accused of clamping down on the media and democratic movements. Described as a man of few words, what he lacked in speech, he more than made up for in action. His actions were often deadly.
Responsible for the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, arrest of MKO Abiola, Abacha would go down in history as Nigeria’s worst dictator. More than twenty-two years now since his death, the effect of his 5 years reign still resounds. But, there are those who maintain that Abacha took a bold stance on foreign policy which propelled the nation’s economy. How true is this claim?
Abacha had a stronghold on the economy during his tenure. As stated by Fayemi, “the Nigerian economy did not escape Abacha’s grip. He ran it as a personal fiefdom”. Abacha didn’t try to conceal his ideas, though. Speaking boldly after receiving the draft of the 1995 constitution, he declared that “we need not be prodded and goaded to adopt a particular model. We can’t be rushed any longer into adopting the straight jacket foreign models which had failed us in the past”.
Considering the neocolonialist tendencies that have become evident at the time, it would seem that the general was in fact taking the country out of the throngs of imperialism. For a very long time, it seemed so.
Through his shady alliances with the D8, and big involvement in the ECOMOG intervention in the Liberian civil war, Abacha glossed over his own personal ambitions.
He also set up a Vision-2010 committee in 1996, which was to oversee an economic and political revamp. The regime however fell out with international community, most especially the West. Abacha decided to ride his luck, knowing their dependence on Nigeria’s oil would speak for itself. During his time, however, there was colossal collapse of infrastructure, including the refinery sector. Thus, importation of petrol and other oil products would swing unto the larger scale, alongside the swindling of funds meant for restoration of facilities.
Abacha is popularly credited for increasing the foreign exchange reserve exponentially, also reducing national debt, but these claims are dangerously inaccurate. He had a complete control over all government officials, including the finance minister, and made it a personal business to monitor public funds. Furthermore, with the failure of checks and balances, corruption bit deep into the system with the general himself being a huge culprit. This would go on to be his legacy 20 years after his demise.
Like several other dictators that had their time in other African countries, it was easy to see where Abacha was going with his political gimmicks. His plan was a stick and carrot approach, to keep dissidents down, while rewarding a section of the political class to consolidate his ambition. It is not unusual to see students of political science trying to find positives in Abacha’s Regime. Sometimes, it stems from a debate on the advantages of military regime over civilian rule.
There are many who express their grievances against the later, though it would seem that they were swayed by the imperialist West. So, you’d occasionally hear people praising the grit and determination of Abacha’s foreign policy. It is also true that corruption didn’t begin with Abacha, neither has it ended with his demise. But, we can’t make any excuses for a leader that would display excessive brutality to remain in power, regardless his intentions. Abacha went down in history as an irredeemable figure.